Thursday, December 19, 2013

Cabot and Marla: Senior Tantra

Sexuality for seniors seems to be finally coming out from under the covers. Even ten years ago, this was mostly a subject for crude jokes, as if there were some kind of taboo on discussing it, but the boomers are getting up there in age, and as a generation they’re not used to being quiet about anything. Sex is no exception, and now that they are getting to be seniors, sex for seniors is suddenly a hot topic!

Of course, not discussing it didn’t mean that it wasn’t happening. Researchers have long known that a lot of couples keep having good sex into their 80s and even 90s, as long as they are healthy enough to do it. And with some creativity, even most serious handicaps can be overcome.

As awareness has grown, however, so has people’s knowledge about the options, which has reinforced the determination of many older people to refuse to let their sex lives dwindle away with age. Exercise classes for seniors are booming. Men with ED can get pills, injections, or implants. Post-menopausal women can get hormone creams for dryness. And the Internet is suddenly overflowing with advice for seniors on how to get that old mojo back.

Our next couple have been through this, and Tantra is an important part of their answer:

Cabot is 70, tall, slim, with a patrician nose, a high-domed forehead, and a shock of white hair. He walks with the slightly absent-minded stoop of a college professor, which he has been for 45 years, though he is now mostly retired. His accent is Back Bay Boston and he can get a little dry when he’s talking about his work, until he catches himself with a grin, and insists that he’s still really an overaged hippie at heart.

Marla is 66, short, dark-haired and somewhat rounder. She still moves with the poise and grace of a ballroom dancer, which she has been since childhood. She retired from a management job at a big company six years ago. She’s a happy person and has an infectious laugh, but she also gives off an impression of being energetic, organized, and very determined. At one point in a story about building their house, Cabot referred to her as “the unstoppable force,” and I can easily see her descending on a zoning commission with energy, charm, humor, reams of data, and implacable determination, and simply sweeping the bewildered officials along before her.

They’ve been married for 15 years and have done Tantra together for 12. It’s a second marriage for both. Cabot is a widower and Marla is divorced. Both have kids and grandkids.

Interview: Getting Started

How did you two meet and what was your marriage like before you started Tantra?

Cabot: Her company hired me to do some consulting for them, and Marla was my liaison in the company, the person who got me in to see people and made sure meetings happened on time and that the security people got me my badge and pass. And I realized right away that she was pretty amazing. In a week, I was head over heels!

Marla: The poor man walked right into my trap. He never had a chance!

Cabot: Nonsense. You’ve seen my ‘clueless fuddy-duddy’ act when someone I don’t like is sucking up to me. Besides, it’s not hard to catch a guy who’s desperately hoping to be caught!

Marla: Anyway, he finished the job, got paid, stuck the check in his coat pocket, and proposed on the spot. What’s a poor girl to do? So I married him!

Cabot: I’ve always been a domestic type and I hated living alone. My first wife died three years earlier, so I was ready. Marla, on the other hand, had been single for 14 years, and I don’t think she realized how much she liked it or was going to miss it. And we made the big mistake of selling her house and moving into mine because it was bigger. We didn’t need the space, and she hated living with someone else’s furniture and curtains and wallpaper. So in some ways, things got off to a rocky start, but that’s pretty common when two successful people marry at that age. We worked it out.

Marla: It wasn’t just the furniture. I’m just not a gloomy 120-year-old-house sort of person. I called it the Addams Family mansion. But there were also family problems. Cab’s kids resented the hell out of me. I totally understand. They loved their mom, and seeing me in Helen’s place was hard. We get along well now, but it was a real pain being typecast as the evil stepmother those first few years.

Cabot: So we had a few transitional problems to deal with, but we managed. And the sex started off okay, or at least I thought so at the time. Helen and I had dwindled off to nothing in the last few years before she died, so it had been quite a while for me, and I was just grateful that everything still worked.

A year after the wedding, we took off for two months in the Far East. I was meeting colleagues I had worked with by mail and met at conferences, or who had visited me, but I hadn’t visited them before, so they really rolled out the red carpet and gave me the visiting distinguished professor treatment. But most Asian countries are pretty backward about spouses. They were perfectly polite to Marla, but they simply ignored her.

Marla: It was, “Hello, how are you? We’re so glad you came! Why don’t you go shopping or take a tour?” Ugh!

Cabot: So what was supposed to be our delayed honeymoon was more like a bust. She gave up after three weeks and flew back early. She couldn’t wait to get back to work, where people appreciated her, and when she did, she just threw herself into it. When I got home, I could see us slipping into the kind of marriage where you have sex twice a month, and then once a month, and then once a quarter. And I know, just from faculty gossip on campus, that an awful lot of marriages get sexless in the 50s or 60s.

Marla: It took him a while to bring it up, but when he did, I realized I had been guilty of thinking that the way things were going was the way he wanted them to go, that he was okay with a sort of boring weekly bump. I do love the big lunk, and I was thinking, well, if that’s all there is, I can live with it.

But when I realized he was unhappy too, then it was time to rethink the situation and look for other options.

Cabot: Right. So she scheduled a formal family meeting. Just the two of us and a stack of legal pads, a box of pencils, and a pile of books and magazines and Xerox copies of various things she’d come across. And we talked and talked and talked. It was the first time we’d ever actually talked about sex, and I realized pretty quickly that we had each been assuming that the other person had a lot of inhibitions and taboos.

Marla: I think that’s a trap a lot of people our age fall into. We were all raised in the era of ‘Nice people don’t talk about things like that.’ And ‘Nice girls don’t do things like that.’ And even if you didn’t agree, you still didn’t say so because a lot of people would be horrified and disgusted and get really mad at you if you ever suggested that something they didn't approve of might not be completely taboo.

And the truth is, Cab and I didn’t really know each other all that well when we got married, and afterward we were both so busy with our careers, plus the house, two sets of kids and grandkids, and everything, that we hadn’t had much chance to talk about what we really believed.

Cabot: And with the friction at the beginning, it was kind of a high-risk environment. I’m thinking, “Should I suggest trying something new? Oh, jeez, she’ll probably think I’m a perv! That’s all we need!” So it seemed like it was better to just keep quiet.

Marla: Plus, we were both actually very inexperienced. The average college student has probably done way more different things, in terms of sex, than Cab and I combined at that point. The most obvious example was that here we were in our 50s and neither of us had ever tried oral sex. That was one of those complete taboos when we were growing up, and neither of us ever dated around when we were single again, so we had no idea whether it was acceptable to even suggest it now.

Cabot: So there we were, sitting at a table, essentially mapping out a research project. And we were both being so careful to sound cool and professional and sort of intellectual about it all. Looking back on it, it would be funny if it weren’t so painfully earnest. So we get about two hours into this, and we’ve got notes all over a couple of pads, and I’ve just added “bondage??” to a list of topics.

And Marla looks over at me and says, “Look, Cab, I love you and I want to fix this. Whatever you want to try, I’ll try. If you’re secretly into bondage, say so. I’m not, but I’ll give it a shot. Who knows? Maybe I’ll like it! If there’s something else, I’ll try that too. Or if I really won’t, I’ll tell you, but I won’t hold it against you. No judgments! As long as we each have the right to say no, we should be willing to just let our guards down and experiment like teenagers.”

So I kissed her, said “Deal!” carried her up to bed, and ravished her on the spot. Then we sat around on the bed and talked about fantasies and stuff for a couple of hours. And then we made a start by finding out whether we liked oral sex. News flash: it can be fun, but it’s more complicated than it sounds!

Marla: Oh, there was so much we didn’t know! That’s a good example. I’d been married twice, and I’d never looked at a penis up close! I’d never held one, never kissed one, never knew which parts of it were more sensitive than the others. And don’t get me started on what we both didn’t know about my anatomy!

Cabot: So we hadn’t wasted all that time making notes. It turned out we really did have a lot of research to do. And we did it. You wouldn’t believe the number of books there are out there! Plus there’s porn – a dead end full of misinformation, but we didn’t know that until we looked – and this was around 1999 or 2000. The Internet was just starting to get into gear as an information source, but boy did it have a lot of porn!

Marla: We literally started with anatomy and a bit of neuropsych. Fortunately, as a prof, Cab has access to a good university library and a good med school’s teaching aids, so we could borrow some pretty nifty stuff. But we also learned that even med schools don’t teach this stuff very well. Some of the popular books on female anatomy were way better than the med school stuff.

Cabot: So we were having fun learning all of this. And the best part was the homework! One day, early on, I brought home a big poster sized chart of the male and female genitals. Marla took one look at it and disappeared upstairs. I thought I’d grossed her out! Then she came back down wearing just a robe and carrying a hand mirror and some pillows, and she said, “Okay, unless you object, I’m going to hop up on the kitchen table here, where we have really good light, and we’re going to go on a treasure hunt!” So we did, just like a couple of 8 year olds playing ‘doctor,’ except we had this great big map to guide us!

Marla: It was fun, but it was important too. In spite of all my years of marriage, I’d never had an orgasm with a man. I thought I was liberated because I had a vibrator! When we got to the point where Cab could give me an orgasm with his fingers and tongue, I felt reborn. So this is what married sex is supposed to be like! And of course, it can be so much more than that, but by now we were hooked.

Cabot: I think we kept looking for new options because things improved for us so fast that we didn’t have any sense that, ‘okay, this is the end of the road – you’ve found it, so stop looking.’ It was more like, ‘each new discovery is a treat, so keep looking for the next one.’ And eventually we stumbled on some articles talking about Tantra as the latest, greatest thing, making all sorts of absurd-sounding claims about sex for hours and super orgasms. And I would have blown it all off, except that one of the people quoted as an authority was a casual friend, an adjunct prof at our campus.

So I called her and asked her if this was really bunk, and she said the article was mostly bunk, but that Tantra was for real. It’s just that it’s much harder to learn than the article made it sound.

Well, the article was all about “5 QUICK EASY STEPS TO COLOSSAL ORGASMS,” and if it were that easy, everyone would already know everything about it, so I wasn’t exactly surprised. Still, my friend offered to tell us what she knew and she put us in touch with Dave and Georgina [two of my best friends and the couple who introduced me to Cab and Marla]. So the upshot was that we got to know Dave and Georgie pretty well, and they lent us some books they said weren’t too bad, and answered a lot of questions for us.

Marla: And that’s how we got started!

Intermission: A Home Made for Tantra

We took a break for lunch at that point, and talked about a lot of things, but mostly the house they built eight years ago. After lunch they took me on a tour, showing me their “den of iniquity.” They have a bedroom specifically designed as a playpen for a couple of people who enjoy sex, but are getting up in years and want to be able to stay active into their eighties and nineties if they can stay healthy that long.

The room has a 4-poster style bed that is actually a frame for a very versatile swing set. (They haven’t used it for sex yet, but say they will if and when either one of them has impaired mobility.) The room also has a rowing machine, a multi-function weight machine, several thickly padded benches, and a salon-quality massage table with hydraulic height adjustment.

There’s a long wall with posters and oversized photos of erotic scenes from Indian temples and a short wall of mirrored shelves for knick-knacks, including the sex toys and lubes they’ve picked up, and a collection of Tibetan bells like those used in meditation and prayer in Buddhist temples. The attached bathroom has a fancy bidet, an oversized walk-in tub with Jacuzzi-style water jets, and a big shower with multiple heads, a built-in seat, and sturdy handrails.

The other long wall is glass, with sliding doors that open onto a private outdoor bathing and sunbathing area, including an outdoor shower and a big swim spa, the kind you can set for steady flow so you can swim against the current. It has several benches around the edge at various heights.

There’s a large mandala, based on the ancient Cretan labyrinth, designed into the tiled patio. It looks perfect for meditation, and much smoother than the one in my new garden or the one in Hans and Anna’s backyard. (It’s interesting how this idea is catching on. Are there really that many walking meditators in the US?)

Cretan 7-Fold Labyrinth Mandala

They also have a large brass gong, with two padded mallets, which they happily demonstrated for me, and a tasteful collection of Hindu erotic statuary, including one of the best Shakti-Shiva karmamudrā (or yab-yum) pieces I’ve seen outside a museum.

All in all, it’s an impressive investment in their lifestyle, as well as a statement of their commitment to remain sexually active as long as possible.


(I’ll return with Part 2 of this interview in our next post.)

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